TAMPA, Fla. — When we spoke to Lightning captain Steven Stamkos Saturday after the team's morning skate, he seemed to think the goal would be to stay away from the overly physical game the Lightning played in Pittsburgh Jan. 30.
When we spoke to Dan Girardi, he expected more of that same physicality.
Perhaps they were both right. Perhaps the Lightning were prepared to score goals while also banging bodies and freeing fists to fly. Regardless of whose intentions were more accurate, they both backed up their words.
Despite shedding Ryan Reaves close to a year ago, despite trading Jamie Oleksiak back to the Stars, despite having renowned enforcer Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup, the Penguins seemed prepared to take the punches the Lightning can throw with the size of Girardi, Victor Hedman, Erik Cernak.
Of the 18 skaters the Penguins had on the ice Saturday night, a narrow slice of them are the type of players who like to mix it up physically, but with gloves on, or ... drop the gloves altogether when necessary. One of those players is most definitely Garrett Wilson, who is willing to fill either of those roles.
The role the Penguins need filled right now, however, is that of a goal scorer as the team has struggled to compete, not physically, but by filling the net.
Yeah, Wilson could fill that, too. So, the guy you'd expect to rise up physically in a game that's become a pretty fun rivalry ... he opened up the scoring with the first goal of his NHL career.
It's been a long time coming.
Not because he was drafted in 2009, but because he's been earning chances while playing in a limited role for the Penguins.
Within that role, Wilson struck gold when he buried a Teddy Blueger pass on a two-on-one. Andrei Vasilevskiy had no chance.
The photo you see at the top of this page is the hockey hug Wilson received as a reward for that first tally. His next hug, and the next time he linked up with Blueger ... those weren't exactly the same kind of smiles earned when a career first goal is scored.
Cedric Paquette was the first Lightning player to really buy into the Girardi side of the argument Saturday night. Brian Dumoulin got in the way of the forward to slow him as a shot came in for Casey DeSmith to corral.
Paquette dumped Dumoulin and Wilson took exception. With a goal already under his belt, Wilson came in to wash Paquette's face with a dirty glove and make it known the Penguins would answer the call for extra physicality.
What isn't seen in that photo of Wilson going after Paquette is the way bodies the size of those two, Dumoulin and Jack Johnson, who is involved on the left behind Blueger, can command all of the attention from officials. That's when, and how, the smaller Blueger got tangled face to face with the slightly larger Adam Erne.
The pair danced away from the pack as if they were preparing to reprise the roles of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in 'Silver Linings Playbook.' And that's when the mouthguard stayed mostly out, but the gloves came fully off.
Blueger was able to twist free and into a better position to swing than Erne and he started unloading with jabs and the snarled face of a rabid animal.
As if that wasn't vicious enough, Blueger assumed the identity of an 'Attitude Era' wrestler hoping to end a fight with an old fashioned takedown, linking Erne to the ice.
Fight over. Mouthguard still being partially chewed. And it was the young forward defending the tough forward, who only scored his first NHL goal a period earlier, defending the defenseman defending his goaltender.
Needless to say, this bout fired up the crowd, fired up the tough guys and fired up everyone else. In fact, it wasn't even two minutes later when Sidney Crosby took the place of tough guy Malkin and smothered Tyler Johnson.
That's Johnson under the standing Crosby, performing his best 'Mighty Ducks' impression of how to succeed in a scrap, starting with a jersey tug.
The two would only go for two-minute roughing penalties, but the point was made: When the Lightning want to bring the thunder, no one on the Penguins is too big to stand their ground and fight back.
Crosby headed to the penalty box to fill out the second half of the 'Mighty Ducks' references and the second half of the 'Bash Brothers.' He sat there chirping across the scorer's table to Johnson with a pretty big grin on his face while Blueger ... well, Blueger kept chewing his mouthguard.
Go ahead and look at that again, and then name a more iconic duo of tough guy brawlers -- I'll wait.
The physicality spread throughout the entire game, not at all limited to the times gloves were disposed of and punches were thrown.
Patric Hornqvist was stripped of his helmet after several jousting bouts with Hedman. He stayed on the ice. He went to the front of the net to look to tip a shot. He didn't second guess the decision or even look slightly concerned.
It was an old fashioned hockey look, but it wasn't any of the old-fashioned physicality, though. Watch this clip of the scraps from this game, and watch particularly when Crosby and Johnson are doing their thing on the ice. Hornqvist and Hedman waltz into the frame keeping one another away from the engaged teammates:
That battle then continued on for a good chunk of the third period. Words were said by Hedman at the face off dot, just feet from me, in which Hornqvist replied, "[bleep] off" and reached with his stick to Hedman's skates to try and blow his tires out when the puck was dropped.
The two kept at it and skated up ice jousting, slashing and cross-checking. This photo also serves as evidence that, especially in a game featuring multiple fights — and stars trying to fight — referees were far too willing to let the bigger boys work things out by trying to break their stick on the other guy.
Take another look at that GIF and you'll see where Johnson got going with Alex Killorn. That fight actually started right in front of me, 170 feet or so from where the two threw and missed a number haymaker-style punches.
Play moved up ice, but those guys wrestled for a bit right by my shooting position before finally deciding it would be a wise decision to just take the other guy off the ice for five minutes.
This wasn't the game you expect the Penguins and the Lightning to play until you see them play it in this style.
You don't expect the physicality and the fights when the Penguins have been accused of ridding their grit over the last year. You don't expect Wilson to rise up to get his first goal in a very, very big way against one of the NHL's best.
But, as Dejan Kovacevic wrote, all of these things point in one direction — the Penguins will not give up the fight.
If you're looking for the rest of the game's best images, they can be seen, as always, right below.
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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